One thing that we have encountered from time to time as a transracial family is people not realizing that our children are ours. The first time my husband and I noticed it we were walking out of a Starbucks many years ago. Rob was pushing Mariyah in the stroller. She was small, and not very visible at the time. James walked out the door of Starbucks a few steps ahead of us, beverage cup in hand and jumped on his scooter to start riding. As we exited steps behind him a woman was walking up the sidewalk. “Stop! Are you all alone?” she yelled to James as he started to glide down the sidewalk 6 or 7 feet in front of us. It was instantly obvious she thought this 4 year old had just finished up his latte and was heading home by himself. Rob and I chuckled at the thought but quickly informed her that she needn’t worry, he was with us. At this point she noticed Mariyah in her stroller, smiled while muttering an apology, and headed in to Starbucks for her coffee.
This situation has happened frequently over the years. A person see’s my child. They do a double take. Their eyes scan the nearby adults. A perplexed look covers their face. It’s happened often enough that I’ve come to refer to this situation as “unaccompanied minor watch.” It’s usually done with love and concern from people who don’t think children should be roaming the streets without a guardian. And I get that. Because I’ve done it a few times. See a child whose appears alone, check for a parent. We all look out for each other. But I remember clear as day the first time one of our children received negativity from someone who didn’t realize we were together.
We were at McDonald’s, classy joint that it is, and James needed some ketchup for his fries but there was none left in the ketchup dispenser. I told him to ask for some at the counter thinking they could give him packets, but he was reluctant. “Please mommy walk with me.” I agreed to walk with him while he did the asking. Excited for his ketchup he took off running to the counter and I approached a second or two later at a walk. As he stepped up to the counter to request his favorite condiment, he was immediately ignored. He tried asking louder for ketchup packets and the boy behind the counter rolled his eyes and told James to try the ketchup dispenser. Of course James mentioned the dispenser was empty and the boy sarcastically told him to push harder. We’re talking about a 5 or 6 year old here. The thing was empty. James had pushed. Hard. Still James obediently headed off in the direction of the dispenser to try again. The counter boy rolled his eyes at James again then stepped up to me with a smile and bat of the eyes, “What can I do for you today miss?” It dawned on me. This guy thought he could be rude to my kid because he thought my kid was all alone. He didn’t realize I was right there ready to go mama bear on him. Shock and surprise washed over his face when I relayed the information. He quickly stammered an apology and handed me several ketchup packets. I seethed with anger for a week, and finally reported him to a manager in hopes that it would calm my emotions.
Another such incident happened last year at Mariyah’s school. It was during intermission at James’s Spring show. I noticed a friend out on the preschool playground with her twin 3 year olds and decided to let Mariyah play with them for a few minutes before the show started back up. She ran off to play with the little boys and I went over to chat with the mothers. After a moment of greeting one of the mothers who I didn’t know yelled “Can you believe this kid?” and took off like a shot in Mariyah’s direction. Mariyah was on the other side of the playground playing on a roller coaster type ride on toy. Yes she looked a little big for it. But this was her classes playground so I’m pretty sure she wasn’t prohibited from using it. I ran after the woman who took no notice of me and roughly removed Mariyah from the toy. She said something along the lines of “You can’t ride that! That toy is for little children!” “This is HER playground and she can play with the roller coaster toy if she wants to!” I remember stammering to the mother in an attempt not to lose my cool. And then it dawned on the woman. This was my child. She wasn’t unaccompanied on the playground. This woman had decided that Mariyah shouldn’t be riding this particular toy and then she had taken her rough hands and grabbed my child with them. Because she thought she could. Because she thought my child was all alone.
Now I don’t know the motivations behind these two separate negative occasions. But I can tell you what it felt like at the time. It felt like racism. No I don’t think either person meant to be racist. But I also don’t think either one would have done that to a white child. These incidences of rudeness were rare when my children were younger. But that is changing. I’ve been grappling with this a lot lately as I watch my children slowly transform from adorable little kids, to older, independent, mature young people. More and more often these days, when they are standing a few steps away, and others don’t realize that we’re together, I see my kids being mistreated. Especially James. Not severely. Not often. Just a little bit. Just small assumptions. People assuming my children didn’t wait their turn. Or that they cut in line. Or that they need to be reminded of their manners. Or that they didn’t return something they borrowed. Or that they took more than their share of something. All these little assumptions. They don’t happen all the time, but they happen often enough that I am certain a shift is happening. People are starting to judge my children because they are Black. They are no longer tiny and innocent in the eyes of society. I was warned this day would come. Every Black person I know said it would happen. Every transracial adoptee told me what a shock it would be. I guess as a white person who never experienced racism I didn’t realize what it really meant. Didn’t realize what was in store for my sweet children. My kids are no longer spending every second covered under my big umbrella of white privilege. And it’s only going to keep getting harder from here. I’m terrified for them.
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